The Print Center

Paul Thek

In the 1960s while in Italy, the late American artist Paul Thek began making paintings using newspaper as substrate. Some feature text written across a field of paint that oscillates between legibility or immersion within the painterly marks. In others, he painted landscapes or objects that hover and float against a monochrome or patterned background. Sometimes details of the newspaper are legible, such as the date, edges of articles or snippets of advertising. The format of the newspaper – its grid, columns, typography – is disrupted and a palimpsest of color and image is created on the page. 

These works combine humor, playfulness and a painterly urgency that leap off the surface. Fluid, dense color serves as the ground for words, fragments of language and symbols. In the two sided piece While There is Time, Let’s Go Out and Feel Everything, the recto features the title words handwritten within a field of dark blue, turquoise and cobalt blue transparent paint. Writing with a brush, Thek often uses maxims embedded in public consciousness. On the verso, the words “Wake Up” from an advertisement for American Express, anchor the center right. The act of painting the text on the front seems to be Thek’s response to that directive.      

In Untitled (fishtail), Thek uses The International Herald Tribune from August 27, 1969. He paints a floating V-shaped fishtail that also resembles bird wings or the fish scales, leaving most of the newspaper’s surface untouched. Positioned at the center, the object’s fleshy wound points downward as if diving into the abyss. It is adjacent to a photograph of a woman trying to escape from a building on fire – the woman, hanging onto the window frame with both hands, attempts to reach safety below. Such dramatic images define front pages. Whether painting a landscape, pure abstraction, still life or symbol, Thek renders a similar drama, leading the viewer to the edges of the paper. The fragility of the material is evident: yellowed with the passage of time, the day’s news story will soon be replaced. Visibility and erasure hang in the balance.

-LB

Artist Biography